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IF EVER there was a royal personage ripe for caricature, it was George, Prince of Wales, later succeeding his father to become King George IV. A wonderful scalliwag, George had an extravagant lifestyle that was satirized in what has come to be called England’s Golden Age of Caricature.
In those days, the concept of lively satire, even when applied with savage caricature, seemed to be practiced without the rancor that accompanies today’s differences of opinion. Here’s the catalog of a thought-provoking exhibition on the topic.
In The Prince and his Pleasures: Satirical Images of George IV and his Circle, author Andrew Barlow says, “The license to criticize the monarch became one of the ways that the English defined their freedom.” And they sure did. Satirical prints could be viewed in shop windows. Folios could be purchased or, if one wished, rented for an evening.
Particularly scathing caricatures might be bought up by those being satirized. Printers and artists could be bribed; Barlow cites one being offered a government pension. The Royal Collection, dispersed in 1910, contained 9900 examples, many of them bought by George IV.
Here are several examples from the exhibition:
The marriage of Prince George and Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert in 1785 may have been “secret,” but not for long. THE LOVER’S LEAP is rich in imagery familiar to Britishers of the era. The ancient marriage custom of jumping over a broomstick is satirized with the stick inscribed Pro Bono Publico (For the Public Good). And the union, illegal under British law, wasn’t secret for long; hence the cat.
The high-breeches fellow next to George is Charles James Fox, who objected to the marriage. His figure is caricatured as “no body,” that is, a nobody in the matter. In the alcove, Mrs. Robinson, a former throb of the prince, comments, “All I desire of mortal Man/Is for to love whilest he can.” The fellow next to her responds, “Well said Robby—His Father will Broom stick him.”
The Marchioness of Hertford was another of George’s mistresses, here with George portrayed as a velocipede (a precursor, sans pedals, of the bicycle). The (non-G-rated) captions have Lady Hertford saying, in part, “… tis a delightful way of riding!!!” The Prince Regent responds, “Aye, aye, it may be very delightful to you; but it is devilish hard work for me!—my legs feel so tired I don’t think I shall be able to stand for months to come…”
The signpost “To the Horns, Inn, Hertford” is a reference to the lady’s cuckolded husband. The Duke of York, headed the other way, is caught up in other scandals involving a £10,000 salary for doing nothing and a fall from office (also from his horse).
The back story: George (legally) married Caroline of Brunswick in 1795 in exchange for Parliament paying off his exorbitant debts. Within a year, mutual loathing set in, daughter Charlotte was born and Caroline was off touring the Continent. When her father-in-law King George III died, Caroline scurried back to England to be elevated as Queen Consort.
This image of George’s quandary was published three days before his father’s funeral. George has swapped his coronet and Prince of Wales three feathers for the crown, looks in a mirror, sees his royal reflection—and a crowned Caroline. Bloody heck.
Not that Caroline was without her partisans, with this etching extoling her virtues. The sheet anchor, the largest onboard a ship, represents steadfastness and hope. This one is inscribed Magna Carta, the People, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, thus emphasizing concepts that Caroline supports. The Lion of England poses at her feet. A soldier presents arms. A sailor holding the royal standard gives a salute and shouts, “The Queen and Old England for Ever.”
In fact, though, things got lamentably complex. George excluded Caroline from the Westminster Abbey coronation. She attempted crashing it through several different portals. Within three weeks, she died, at age 53, possibly of doses of laudanum and milk of magnesia, possibly of cancer, possibly of poisoning.
One of these days, SimanaitisSays will return to caricature with a virtual visit to George’s stunning boondoggle, the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, England. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, Simanaitis Says.com, 2015